An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Nüxun 女訓 (Neixun 內訓)

Jun 20, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

There are several books with the title Nüxun 女訓 "Instructions for girls", all written as treatises on female conduct with the intention to be used for the education of girls.

There was a Nüxun by the Han-period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) scholar Cai Yong 蔡邕 (132-192), one by Miss Li 李氏, wife of the Western Jin-period 西晉 (265-316) official Jia Chong 賈充 (217-282), and an anonymous Nüxun from the Liang period 梁 (502-557). During the Tang period 唐 (618-907), Miss Wei 韋氏, wife of Wang Lin 王琳, wrote a book with this title, as well as two Ming-period 明 (1368-1644) persons, the one being Empress Xu 徐后 (imperial title Empress Renxiao 仁孝皇后), wife of Emperor Chengzu 明成祖 (r. 1403-1424, her book is also known with the title Neixun 內訓 "Instructions for the interior"), and the other Empress Dowager Jiang 蔣太后, wife of the Emperor Shizong 明世宗 (r. 1522-1566). During the Qing period 清 (1644-1911) two further books of this title were produced, namely the Nüxun by the daughter of Li Zongbai 李宗白, and another written by Miss Li 李氏 (1666-1743), the wife of Yin Gongbi 尹公弼. Most of these books were never printed and are therefore lost.

The short book by Empress Dowager Jiang has survived. It is 12 chapters-long and was promulgated in 1530 to be used by the public. It was planned to serve for the education of the princes, but after the Empress's passing away the Emperor had the book allowed to be used by the public. This was mainly done as an expression of his filial piety towards his mother, Empress Gao 高皇后, and his late wife. The Neixun should serve as a contemporary analogon to the Han-period book Lienüzhuan 列女傳.

The Neixun is divided into 20 chapters. While the Lienüzhuan only consists of biographies of outstanding women, the Neixun is more theoretical, except a few examples of outstanding women from the early decades of the Ming period. The reason why a woman can become a "saint" is because she can be able to nourish her virtue. This happens by speaking with care and acting with prudence. She works with diligent urge, manages the household with thrifting sparingness, and she constantly admonishes herself and her children. She holds highly the instructions of her mother-in-law, venerates the rules of the former outstanding women, serves her own parents and her uncles and aunts. She cares for the up-keeping of the household offerings. She knows her maternal obligations, her friendship towards the neighbourhood, her benevolence towards the younger and how to observe the household servants. If praised for her qualities she will not be arrogant, and if not criticized for faults, she is nonetheless never satisfied with herself.

The Neixun of Empress Renxiao is part of the canon of the "four books for girls", the Nü sishu 女四書. It is also included in the series Siku quanshu 四庫全書.

Contents of Empress Renxiao's 仁孝皇后 Neixun 内訓
閨訓 Guixun Instructions for the boudoir
修德 Xiude Establishing virtue
受命 Shouming Obtaining orders
夫婦 Fufu Husband and wife
孝舅姑 Xiao jiugu Filial piety towards uncle and aunt
敬夫 Jingfu Respecting the husband
愛妾 Aiqie Affection towards the wife
慈幼 Ciyou Benevolence towards the children
妊子 Renzi Giving birth to a child
教子 Jiaozi Educating children
慎靜 Shenjing Seriousness and quietness
節俗 Jiesu Sparingness and simplicity
Ren Fang 任芳 (1995). "Neixun 内訓", "Nüxun 女訓", in Lu Leshan 盧樂山, ed. Zhongguo nüxing baike quanshu 中國女性百科全書, part Hunyin jiating 婚姻家庭 (Shenyang: Dongbei daxue chubanshe), 72-73.